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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

'Cola de Mono' DVD: Christmas Tale of Sexual Discovery

The TLA Releasing DVD of the 2018 film "Cola de Mono" likely wins the award for the most unusual and dark Christmas film ever. It combines the sexual awakening of teen boy Borja with heavy family drama and a very sad aspect of gay life.

The titular cocktail plays a major role regarding the central holiday celebration gone out of bounds in which secrets and repressed emotions come out. A few occasions on which text across the screen provides exposition includes a recipe for this beverage. 

Our story begins on a relatively happy note on Christmas Eve 1986; Hyperactive cinephile Borja is driving both mother Irene and slightly older brother Vicente crazy. One family issue is that Vicente is the golden boy, and both Mom and Bro are frustrated that Borja is so immature.

This family moves onto a holiday feast at which Borja becomes a bigger nuisance in proportion to the number of Cola de Mundos that he consumes. This bratty behavior includes teasing Vicente about plans to go out to meet a "friend."

The family then goes their separate ways as Ireme passes out, closeted Vicente goes to a woodsy gay cruising area, and our excitable boy continues drinking and getting restless.

Borja shows that he hates closed doors more than cats by breaking into the room of Vicente. Surprising himself regarding his response to the porn that he finds makes him aware that he and his brother are more alike than he believed.

Vicente coming back from a negative cruising experience and finding his brother both spent and red-handed leads to one form of sibling drama that leads to additional bonding. Things then taking a very dark turn provides more proof that "Cola" is not a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie. 

The movie breaks with tradition by ending with a scene several years after the depicted events, rather than by beginning with those events and flashing back to the aforementioned celebration. 

These scenes mostly are of the primary '90s venue for anonymous gay sex. They also show that things have come a long way since the '80s,

We then move to a scene that provides a few forms of closure regarding arguably the most memorable Christmas in the history of the family.

Aside from offering a compelling story, all this adds depth in the form of  comments on the "nature v. nurture" debate regarding homosexuality and shows that history repeats itself.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

'Kwicky Koala' CS DVD: Tex Avery Swan Song

Warner Archive provides animation god Tex Avery an apt homage in releasing the complete series of "The Kwicky Koala Show" on DVD. Avery passed away while working on this swan song, which aired in the 1981-82 CBS Saturday morning lineup. The artistic success of this show relates both to it reflecting an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude and by showing that the best of this genre is much more than anthropomorphic animated animal antics for cheap laughs. 

The continuation of a proud heritage begins with the titular Australia native having the wimpy old-man voice that belies the beast within ala Avery creation Droopy Dog. The bigger picture is "Kwicky" following a variation of the format of the early '60s "talking animals" series of "Kwicky" producers Hanna-Barbera.

Our star is featured in the first cartoon of his show. We get additional shorts that include quasi-"Yogi Bear" homage/quasi-educational cartoon "Crazy Claws" and the "Top Cat" homage "Dirty Dawg."  Fillers that consist of the Of Mice and Men style "two stupid dogs" duo George and Joey. Bungle. Their concept is constantly trying failed circus and vaudeville acts. (This site has a review of the Archive CS DVD set of "Dogs.") 

"Scooby-Doo" legend Frank Welker brings the strongest VO star power to "Kwicky." Welker plays Dirty Dawg, whose partner-in-crime on the mean streets of their city being actual rodent Ratso adds a "Midnight Cowboy" aspect to this "Top Cat" style series about a couple of low-level hustlers constantly scheming while trying to evade hard-ass beat-cop Officer Bullhorn. All this arguably warrants a comparison to "Les Miserable."

The first outing for Dirty and Ratso essentially is a drag plot. Dirty convinces Ratso to masquerade as a small canine to compete in dog show that has a large cash prize. A "sit" that provides some of the "com" revolves around Dirty using classic cartoon tactics to eliminate the competition. Suffice it to say that that the other contenders for "Best in Show" do not react kindly to that sabotage. 

We similarly see a scheme backfire on our pair when they succeed in obtaining entry into what seems to be a posh country club for dogs; they discover that karma can be the mother of all bitches. The same is true regarding a plot to chow down on hospital food. 

The next best well-known name in the animation world is better known for his role on the classic sitcom "The Brady Bunch." Allan Melvin (a.k.a. Sam the Butcher) plays dim-witted Joey Bungle. His contributions to the continued failure of his act includes responding to George confessing mid-high-dive that he is afraid of water by moving the tub in which his brother is attempting to land. 

John Stephenson is the Rodney Dangerfield of the animation world; this relates to his 254 IMDb credits including many classic cartoon series but most people at best knowing him as that guy that was in that thing. Stephenson channels the snarky effeminate persona that Paul Lynde uses for his predatory canine characters in other HB series to play Kwicky foe Wilford Wolf. The success of this sincerest form of flattery succeeds to the extent of untrained ears likely thinking that Lynde voices Wilford.

A "Kwicky" cartoon that appears in an early episode likely is the intended pilot. Our lead breaks the third wall by directly addressing the audience on coming out of his cute little house. He explains that most people incorrectly believe that koalas are slow. We soon learn that they are very fast.

The conflict this time is that Wilford wants to capture Kwicky to collect a large bounty that a hunter is offering for a koala. Wilford uses his cunning, rather than his Acme-style devices and his physical attributes, in his effort to capture his prey. 

Last but not least is "Crazy Claws." The most notable aspect of this series about the titular wildcat with almost adamantium-caliber claws is the aforementioned educational element. Park Service employee Ranger Rangerfield works in botany lessons while trying to keep the peace as dastardly Yosemite Sam clone Rawhide Clyde and his snickering floppy-eared hound attempt to stop that feline. Examples of that schooling include how wild flowers grow and why leaves change colors each autumn.

All of this adds up to great nostalgia for those of us old enough to remember eating junk cereal and staying in our pajamas until noon every Saturday so as not to miss a minute of the joy courtesy of Hanna-Barbera and the Krofft Brothers. Thanks to Warner, Millenmials and Gen Zers can experience some of that magic.

Friday, April 26, 2019

All I Really Needed to Know I Learned From '70scoms

The current analytical thinking that leads to detours from reviews into Blogland shows that the underlying premise of Unreal TV is flawed. Unreal TV 1.0, which has evolved into Matt Nelson Reviews, is based on the idea that we need "unreal" sitcoms and other non-fiction fare to escape our cold cruel world. The actual truth is that we need '70scoms as our model for life.

Anyone with even advanced-beginner knowledge of television history knows that '50scoms typically revolve around suburban nuclear families in which every member presents a mostly idealized version of his or her real-life counterpart. This leads to the mid '60s in which a combination of greater awareness of our society, the Vietnam War, and the increasing popularity of the counter-culture give rise to "freakcoms." The outside may be a hillbilly living in a mansion, a New York lawyer living among hicks, a clan (or two) of monsters in suburbia, a struggling rock band living in a beach house, or a genie or a witch co-habitating with her fella. 

The ''70s give rise to arguably the most realistic era of sitcoms. The lead is out in the workplace that typically is part of the story. Significant others who survive the TV Land purge of spouses  are almost as likely to bring home some bacon. 

The '80s represent the Cheese Age of television in which '70scoms jump the shark and become cartoonish versions of their former glory. The highly significant other of your not-so-humble reviewer notes that this is the period in which the Norman Lear groundbreaker "The Jeffersons" largely has Louise Jefferson and neighbor/best friend Helen Willis play cheap copies of Lucy and Ethel.

The new kids on the block mostly are silly fun with little or no substance. Of course, Fox entering the picture in this era contributes to this.

The '90s become the era of urban "friends" living in apartments that their real-life counterparts can only dream of affording. The better news is that the subgenre of gaycoms paves the way for marriage equality and other 21st century advances.

The 2000s are the "Two-and-a-Half Men" and "How I Met Your Mother era of crass and crude sitcoms that rely on shock value for laughs. The 2010s seem to be a free-for-all.

The reason for this recap is to show that '70scoms is the only one that (as intended) most realistically reflects the American life of the era. The bad news is that things have greatly changed for the worst; the good news is that that we can change back.

The two '70scoms that first come to mind when thinking of the fare of the era are "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "The Bob Newhart Show." It is interesting that the former Tyler Moore series "The Dick Van Dyke Show" is one of the first that literally and figuratively gives the workplace and the home equal time. 

Starting close to home, it is nice to see folks who reasonably resemble the people in our lives. Further, reel-life friends and neighbors are not always so nice but at least are never toxic. The sad truth is that many people in 2018 start from a neutral stance but are quick to resentment and related anger. This is assuming that you even interact with the boy or girl next door. 

A public encounter from the era of the 2000 presidential election that can be considered the beginning of the end of civility in America perfectly illustrates how far we have fallen since the '70s.

I have worn red polo shirts all my life without incident until randomly wearing one to the Michael Moore anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 911." Despite paying money to see a movie that is critical of Dubya and not having uttered a syllable in the theater, I soon became the object of active scorn based on my attire.

The first absurd aspect of this is the assumption that the shirt is a declaration of being a Republican; the added insult is that this perfect stranger is a monster who deserves such an attack. The truth is that I am am independent who vocally advocates putting a moderate in the Oval Office.  BILL GATES IN 2020!

Moving onto the workplace, it is nice to see a fantasy world in which most people get along and even foes co-exist in relative peace. An amusing  real-life aspect is often joking to someone involved in long-term conflict with a co-worker is that the solution is to lock them together in the supply room overnight, The very apt reply is that the resulting ceasing of hostility only lasts a week.

The first part of the final act lesson regarding all this is that everyone should remember the importance of working and playing well with others that the aforementioned shows reflect. Part of this that these series also reflect is that you do not have to love thy neighbor or co-worker but  must show that person common courtesy at least until he or she figuratively throws the first punch; even then, turning the other cheek is tougher but still is the best option. 

The second part of the lesson is even more important; one big reason that we are in our current hostile state is that our candidates for federal offices increasingly run negative campaigns that greatly contribute to the divisive nature of our society. Haring someone based on a snap judgment that he is a Republican now justifies attacks based on a perception of being a "Have" even when not much actually is had.

A sadly amusing aspect of this is regularly overhearing employees at Target and virtually every other retail business complain about the "rich people" with whom they interact. The reality is that it is highly unlikely that anyone with incomes in the highest tax bracket even shop at these stores. 

The relative (and mostly achievable) Utopia of '70scoms is a world in which your core group is your support system and rarely the cause of stress. Further, you are judged based on on your inherent qualities and usually are literally and figuratively invited to the party so long as you are a decent and caring person. Sounds good (and attainable)  to me. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

'We Are Boats' DVD: Touched By A Working Girl Angel

Breaking Glass Pictures awesomely follows the trend of other theatrical and DVD studios regarding the March 26, 2019 DVD release of the 2018 indie drama "We Are Boats." These best friends to lovers of quality art-house films are further stepping up their game regarding making these hidden gems accessible to the general public. 

The following YouTube clip of a "Boats" trailer nicely conveys the surreal earthy of the film and introduces the heavenly cast. It is nice to see charming formerly teen goofball Boo Boo Stewart play a fun and compassionate adult.​

Our story begins with working girl Francesca being the victim of a type of harm that can befall members of the oldest profession in the world. This leads to her doing a walk without shame in the afterlife.

Writer/director James Bird of the (reviewed) fantabulous Breaking film "Honeyglue" puts his highly creative artistic talent to good use in making our not necessarily final destination look like Vermont in summer. 

The first afterlife lesson that Francesca learns is that the sweet relief of death does not include no longer enduring job interviews. She must go through the selection process for the position of a variation of a guardian angel. We also learn that having a personal horse in the race still can motivate seeking particular employment. In this case, Francesca is desperate for closure with her still-living daughter. 

This job entails returning to earth to help guide folks who are near death. One difference between this system and the more traditional one is that a death is not considered a loss. An even more cool aspect is the extent to which the presence of Francessca, who now is akin to a resident cat at a nursing home, is known to us mere mortals.

Francesca begins her first mission immediately on taking her quantum leap of faith back to earth. She very quickly hooks up in both senses of the word with Michael, who is a musician with an "its complicated" relationship with his wife. A more positive aspect of this is that Francesca helps ensure that Michael dies with a smile on his face. 

Francesca then boards an LA-bound bus to do her best to prevent the new widow from quickly joining her husband in Vermont. This journey connects her with fatally ill older man Cliff (Graham Greene). He is going to The City of Angels to make peace with his estranged daughter. Cliff also mentioning that he is estranged from his son for philosophical reasons is one of many indications that Bird supplies regarding things to come.

Our LA story begins with Steewart playing aptly named Taylor, who works at the vintage clothing store where the widow brings the duds of her late husband. Taylor also is the partner of a man who performs at anti-meat rallies with a female bartender who is engaged to Lucas. Luke Hemsworth (who is the Stephen, the Clint, or the Frank of the Hemsworth acting clan) plays Lucas. 

Lucas coerces a good friend from New York to assist with a plan that is designed to learn whether the bartender is keeping her no-charge dairy open in the days leading to the wedding.

Cliff showing up at the home of his daughter sets most of the action that provides the climax of "Boats" in motion. The ensuing trauma and drama validates the seven degrees of separation theory of life. This is not to mention the traditionally symbolic nature of the means by which those whose time has come move on to the next stage of existence. 

Breaking supplements all this with deleted scenes and 30 minutes of cast and crew interviews that show that those folks had as much fun making the film as we did watching it. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

'The Late Show' DVD: Carney and Tomlin Do Noir

The Warner Archive DVD release of the 1977 neo-noir with comic touches film "The Late Show" provides another chance to see that Art Carney of "The Honeymooners" is more than just another pretty face. This movie makes a great companion to the (reviewed) Archive DVD release of the 1979 Carney comedy with serious overtones "Going in Style" and his Oscar-winning performance in the 1974 film "Harry and Tonto." 

The behind-the-camera cred. of "Show" includes the work of Oscar winner writer/director Robert Benton. His better known films include "Kramer vs. Kramer," "Bonnie and Clyde," and "Places in the Heart." 

This change of pace for Carney and co-star Lily Tomlin gets off on the right note with the perfect balance between exposition and starting the action. Elderly private eye Ira Wells (Carney) is enjoying a quiet evening in his small shabby bachelor pad when an old friend stops by and drops dead within a minute of arriving, 

The noirness of this film that showcases the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles continues with Wells reuniting with another old friend at the funeral for the dearly departed. Charlie Hatter (Bill Macy of "Maude") is an increasingly failing talent agent who introduces Wells to former client Margo Sterling (Tomlin).

The deceptively simple case this time is that Sterling wants Wells to rescue her cat Winston, whom a catnapper is holding for ransom in the amount of a debt that Sterling owes that scoundrel. 

The plot thickens on Sterling literally bringing her troubles to the front door of Chez Wells by arranging a meeting with the not-so-smooth criminal; this results in gun play that fully sets the game afoot for Wells.

Discovering postage stamps on the body of the recently deceased leads to Wells investigating the theft of that loot in a robbery in which the lady of the house is killed. This investigation brings Wells to the home of fence Ron Birdwell (Eugene  Roche). The "muscle" of Ron not hesitating to rough up Wells within a minute of his arrival can be considered nice commentary on a lack of age discrimination.

Wells brings Sterling along on a visit to a usual suspect with hopes of that discussion having the least possible trauma and drama. This pair discovering that someone literally and figuratively beat them to the punch draws our low-rent Remington Steele and Laura Holt deeper into the case. 

More fun relates to discovering that Laura Birdwell (Joanna Cassidy) is involved in all the action to an even larger degree then her husband is pure Chandler or Spade. 

Wells ultimately shows that snow on the roof does not freeze the brain when he connects the pieces in classic noir fashion. It seems that only pulp fiction can tie together a dead gumshoe, a ditzy damsel in distress, a murder-robbery that involves much more than meets the eye. an extra-marital affair, and a friend who dupes a good buddy into having to figure out all of it. 

Benton shows genius in remaining true to gritty noir drama decades after the golden era of that genre, successfully showing new sides of Tomlin and Carney and getting that May-December team to click, and crafting a plot that keeps the twists coming until the end, It is hard to imagine that they can make 'em like that anymore. 

Archive keeps the fun coming with a special feature that shows Tomlin bringing Ernestine the telephone operator to the party when she discusses "Show" on "Dinah" with Dinah Shore. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

'Devil's Path' DVD: Horny Boys Face Peril in Wooded Cruising Area

The Breaking Glass Pictures March 12, 2019 DVD release of the 2018 neo-"Deliverance" film "Devil's Path" helps get horny gay sluts in the mood for spring; remember that (easily pulled down) short shorts and mesh belly-shirt season only is a few weeks away. On a higher level, this no-reason-to-feel-guilty pleasure tells an intriguing story and has some depth.

The accolades for this tale of two boys looking for a climax include a Best Supporting Actor award for Patrick portrayor JD Scalzo and a Best First Narrative Feature for writer/director Matthew Montgomery at the 2018 FilmOut San Diego festival, 

The following YouTube clip of a "Path" trailer provides a good sense of the style and the themes of our central lost boys.

The setting of a wilderness area that gay men frequent in an effort to find Mr. Right Now is familiar to guys who look for love (or lust) in all the wrong places and in too many facials. Country mouse Noah and the city mouse currently known as Patrick meet near the trailhead (pun intended) of the titular danger zone. This provides early depth in the form of Patrick representing the common gay stereotype who quickly shares his sexual fantasies and almost  as rapidly gets down to risky business but either lies about or refuses to tell less personal information such as his name and the general nature of his work.

Noah and Patrick then go into the woods with full knowledge of two men who enter that dark and forbidden area but never come out. The subsequent intercourse of our leads adds additional depth in the form of the declaration by Noah that he desires more than wham-bam-thank-you-Sir (or Daddy) and Patrick responding that the bears and the other woodland creatures are only there to hit it and quit it.

The plot thickens on Patrick about to dump Noah in favor of a good-time boy when Noah asks his new friend with potential benefits to hang back while he answers a call of nature. Patrick soon discovers Noah on the ground bleeding; the immediate aftermath of that incident prompts the local Yogi and BooBoo to take off in hot pursuit of Patrick and Noah.

Our boy in the hoodie revealing more about himself as he and Patrick play hide-and-seek for their lives provides additional depth. The lesson here is that the seemingly nice guy who is out cruising may have a not-so-hidden dark side, 

We learn of the almost literally dog-eat-dog tortured childhood of Noah; this relates to his being in the forest to get to the bottom of the disappearance of his brother who took one for the team. A related reveal is that Noah likes to watch.

The truth that fully comes out is genuinely surprising and once again proves that you never really know the guy whom you meet in the woods to get you some. Of course, this adds a new dimension to the head games that that often involves.

The bigger picture this time is that "Path" validates the theory that the degree of sexual content in a film is inversely related to its substance. Virtually nothing about the Noah/Patrick relationship either is erotic or sensual. Further, any flash of naughty bits is of the "blink and you'll miss it" variety.

The special features include extended interviews with the cast, the crew, and crew members who are in the cast. Crew member Steve Callahan gets the best line in referring to his Park Ranger Tom being horrible at his job. Another spoiler is that our leads are as endearing in real life as they are on the screen. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

'Steven Universe' S2 DVD Giftset: Adventure Time for Steven and the Holograms

The fun for all ages April 16, 2019 Cartoon Network/Warner Brothers DVD release of "Steven Universe" S2 (2015-2016) begins with the way cool puffy Garnet fusion keychain and the equally awesome cover art featuring that Crystal Gem new leader of the band. This anime lite series is a bright and colorful surreal joy ride that should thoroughly delight the primary target audience and amuse those of us with secondary sexual characteristics.

Additional glee is attributable to the newly released S2 soundtrack and the separate "Karaoke" release on your favorite platform. The "but wait there's more" aspect of this is the "Steven Universe: The Phantom Fable" mobile game that is coming out on April 18. 

The perfect series description on IMDb nicely helps put words in the mouth of your not-so-humble reviewer. That site describes the show as "a team of galactic warriors fights to protect the universe, but the combination of three highly trained beings and one quirky young boy leaves the team struggling to  overcome the dangerous scenarios that are put in front of them." The reasons that this variation of "Teen Titans" seems similar in style to fellow CN series "Adventure Time" include that creator Rebecca Sugar (who bares a passing resemblance to Steven) is the best brain behind both shows. 

The S2 episode "We Need to Talk" provides an overview of the "Steven" lore. Then-guitar god in his own mind Greg Universe is rocking out to an audience of a girl with something extra when love at first sight leads him to discover the ancient beachside temple that she and her fellow guardians of the galaxy call home. This ultimately leads to the birth of our titular half-alien half-excitable-boy who inherits the gem in his belly button from his mother's side of the family. 

Our first adventure, which is titled "Say Uncle," also reflects this proud heritage. Steven literally is contemplating his navel and experiencing pre-adolescent angst regarding his inability to trigger his power of forming a protective shield around his body. An ill-fated cry to the heavens results in manic Uncle Grandpa arriving and causing chaos.

The theory of this visitor with no impulse control is that the shield will form when Steven faces an adequately serious threat to his physical well-being, Uncle Grandpa then launches a hilarious beezooka and other weapons of mass hysteria at the lad. This homage to Looney Toon cartoons results in the style of life lesson that Steven and his viewers typically learn from each adventure.

Body issues also are the topic in "Reformed," which finds feisty Crystal Gem Amethyst trying out new holographic forms as she battles a gem monster that is running amok in the temple. One moral this time is if ain't broke, don;t fix it."

A personal fave is a more down-to-earth tale. A very proud Steven is the artist of a comically crude poster promoting guitar lessons by his father. A series of fortunate circumstances leads to this boy teaming up with the cool teen son of the mayor of their home turf of Beach City.

These unlikely friends make t-shirts with that image; the problem is that Steven thinks that the general populace appreciates his artistic talent, but all fondness is of the ironic variety. Even given that, Steven cleverly turns the table in a the student becomes the teacher manner. 

The remaining 18 episodes offer similar fare that makes many young boys fantasize about being Steven and older folks getting more than a little badly needed joy in their lives. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

'Going In Style' DVD: Sunshine Boys Learn How to Beat the High Cost of Living

Warner Archive pulls a twofer regarding the DVD release of the 1979 original version of "Going in Style." We get a quality comedy that does not resort to sex or cheap laughs for entertainment. We also get a golden boys cast in the form of senior actors in both senses of that word. This dream ensemble is George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. This film also makes a great companion to the Archive DVD of the Carney/Lily Tomlin 1977 noir movie "The Late Show." 

The entertainment value of "Style" alone warrants adding this well-remastered DVD to your collection, The clip of Burns and Carney plugging the film on an episode of the Dinah Shore talk show "Dinah and Friends" should seal the deal. This seven minutes in Heaven has Shore being her usual good sport when Carney does a classic Ed Norton bit. Burns perfectly setting up a story about Carney playing pocket pool in a "Style" scene should seal the deal.

Burns is semi-fresh off the success of the 1975 film "The Sunshine Boys" and more fresh off his bigger hit "Oh God." Carney also is basking in the glow of this Oscar-winning performance in "Harry and Tonto" (1974) and his "Show" fame. 

Joe (Burns), Al (Carney), and Willie (Strasberg) are fixed-income roommates in a shabby Astoria apartment. They stereotypically spend part of their day feeding pigeons in the park.

Joe watching money wheeled into the bank as he cashes his meager Social Security check has him put two and two together in a manner reminiscent of the real housewives who pull a heist to make ends meet in the 1980 comedy "How to Beat the High Cost of Living."

Joe concludes that a bank robbery is no-lose situation in that the trio enjoys a better standard of living if they succeed and do not experience much of a reversal of fortune if they get caught. Al is a more eager accomplice than Willie, who largely is along for the ride. Willie also checks out soon after the caper.

The main event goes off without a hitch. This venture nets them both fun and profit. Watching Carney especially channel Norton as he grooves out to the tunes of a street steel-drum band is a highlight. Al and Joe subsequently hit Vegas to enjoy their new-found wealth.

Our boys experience reversals of fortune on their return home. Both the law and time are closing in on these senior versions of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton with much less yelling and despair than the originals. The better news is that the past-primetime players have fun and adventure before facing their new normal.

The delight of this "Style" extends beyond seeing Burns and Carney do their bit during their golden years. As mentioned above, this movie entertainingly tells a tale almost as old as time without sacrificing art for commerce. How sweet it is. ​

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

'Malibu Express' BD: Awesome Andy Sidaris Sexploitation Action Comedy

The Mill Creek Entertainment separate April 16, 2019 Blu-ray releases of the Andy Sidaris films "Malibu Express" (`1985) and "Hard Ticket to Hawaii" (1987) provide good chances to enjoy the entertaining pillow soft R-rated porn of this master of mainstream-friendly sleaze. Think "Porkys" with adult-film quality production values and acting. Not that there is anything wrong with that. 

Our current topic is "Malibu;" "Hawaii" literally is a subject for another day.

"Daniel Boone" television series star Darby Hinton strays far from that wholesome fare to play hard-bodied, hard-loving, and hard-fisted Texas trust-fund baby Cody Abilene. Think a younger, buffer, and cruder version of '80s TV detective/Magnum clone Matt Houston.

The film title relates to an ambiguous tribute to the deceased mother of Cody that he creates at the entrance to the yacht where he lives. His Higgins is a stuffed shirt official at the yacht club where the vessel is docked. 

Although the new bimbos next door do not hesitate to come a knockin' for a gang shower on a rare occasion on which the boat of Abilene is not a rockin', his aptly named race-car driver friend June Khnockers does not make a booty call during the film. 

The still-timely plot device of Russian spies using personal-computers in the United States for nefarious purposes in this pre-Internet era prompts "Higgins" to recruit Abilene for a game of Stud v. Spy.

The first stop on this this thrill-ride is a visit to seductive and liberated friend with extensive benefits Contessa Lucianna (Sybil Danning). Said perks include a needed introduction to Contessa friend Lady Lillian Chamberlain, who is the stereotypical matriarch of a stereotypical one-perecenter household. Her effeminate nephew is a not-very-well closeted homosexual; his beard does not let her marriage vows slow down her extra-marital activity. Studly chauffuer/blackmailer Shane separately gives each spouse the same thing that he or she needs. 

The plot thickens on Shane getting murdered as apparent revenge for the blackmail. Of course, Abilene both gets on the case and discovers a tie between that crime and the Russian activities. 

The investigation heating up provides plenty of chances for car chases, shoot-outs, and fisticuffs. The latter particularly demonstrates the pattern of Sidaris casting professional bodybuilders in his movies.

The best surprises and most fun come near the end of "Malibu."  Abilene proves that he is more than a pretty face when he conducts a very SoCal version of the traditional drawing-room reveals at the end of classic murder mysteries. This aptly leads to an equally Eureka State variation of the hero riding off into the sunset. 

The auteur himself provides both a introduction to "Malibu" and extensive gleeful insights in a behind-the-scenes featurette. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

'Escape at Dannemora' DVD: Ben Stiller Directed Real-Life Prison Break

The CBS Home Entertainment April 16, 2019 DVD release of the seven-episode Showtime limited-series "Escape at Dannemora" can be considered the real-life equivalent of the Fox drama "Prison Break." The release coming a week after the CBS (reviewed) release of the sixth season of the "Sopranos" like drama "Ray Donovan" indicates the talent of the Showtime suits for knowing a good dramatic story when they see it. 

This joint by executive producer/director Ben Stiller chronicles every stage of convicted murderers Richard Matt (Benicio Del Toro) and David Sweat (Paul Dano) going from stir crazy to busting loose from the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in the titular upstate New York town.

An intriguing aspect of "Dannemora" is the prominent role of prison employee Joyce "Tilly" Mitchell in the 2015 break. Patricia Arquette goes from a medium to a large to play this simple-minded Canadian, who pays a heavy price "to get a nut." The superb job of Arquette scores her a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, and a Critics' Choice Award.

The following clip of "Dannemora" trailer highlights the talent of Arquette and the chops of her company. It also provides a taste of the extensive soundtrack that indicates that Stiller has good taste in music. 

Our story fully gets underway in the aftermath of Matt and Sweat making a run for the northern border. NY Inspector General Catherine Scott (Bonnie Hunt) is grilling Mitchell, who now is a guest of the state, about her role in the event. Much of the entertainment relates to clearly seeing both that Mitchell is her own worst enemy and that she is not the mastermind of the plot. 

We then flashback to Mitchell working as the supervisor of the prison tailor shop; Sweat is her shop foreman/not-so-secret lover. Clearly equally dim-witted second husband/fellow employee Lyle Mitchell stands by his woman despite multiple credible reports of her frequent working-hours coitus with Sweat in a side room of the shop.

Sweat losing his sweet job and experiencing the prison equivalent of downsizing regarding his housing sets things in motion. Matt COMPLETELY fills the void in the shop and puts the escape plan in motion. The manner in which he does both shows who';s the boss. 

The plot thickens as Matt seduces Mitchell into initially inadvertently and subsequently knowingly aiding and abetting the great escape. This begins with tricking her into providing a necessary tool and escalates to recruiting her to he a full-fledged moll. Much of the entertainment of this is watching Del Toro expertly playing a master manipulator. His persuasion includes painting an image of a paradise in which Mitchell has both Matt and Sweat essentially as her love slaves.

The next portion of "Dannemora" involves Sweat aptly contributing sweat equity to the venture. Matt is doing his part by ensuring that Mitchell is remaining with the program by filling her head with images of her prisoners of love making her life a paradise on earth.

One of the final episodes is a flashback that shows how our members of the devil's love triangle come to be in their current states of literal or figurative incarceration. We witness the crimes for which Matt and Sweat are doing the time and see how history is repeating itself in the case of Mitchell. 

This leads to the lukewarm pursuit of the boys as their not-so-Bonnie accomplice deals with being left behind and with facing contending with the possible consequences of her actions. Suffice it to say that being a band on the run takes individual and group tolls on our fugitives.

Stiller nicely wraps things up by depicting the results of the manhunt and providing the standard "where are they now" updates at the end of the final episode. Putting very human faces on these members of "America's Most Wanted" adds an interesting perspective and makes the audience both wanting to learn more and to to see an "after Dannemora" series.

CBS bats .500 regarding the desire for more. A DVD extra is a combination "making of" and real-story special feature. We get footage related to the source material and see interviews with some of the real life cops and cons whom Stiller hires to ensures that his story is authentic. A particularly amusing story by a former Clinton guard is finding himself filming scenes with ex-cons whom he guarded back in the day. A "bygones" attitude by everyone helps maintain the peace. 

The other feature is more like a page out of the Fox "Break." This extend anatomy of a scene shows all of the work and the multiple locations associated with the epic scene of the extended escape route. One spoiler is that this does not rise to the level of foulness in the "Shawshank" escape. 

The bottom line is there is something about the Focker that makes "Dannemora" that easily passes the "one more" test of this movie that shows the extent to which reality bites for our central trio.​

Monday, April 15, 2019

'SHAZAM!' Theatrical: Half a Boy and Half a Man

The true-to-comic-book spirit of "SHAZAM!" makes it by far the best entry in the current round of WB DCU superhero movies. This light-hearted romp is a wonderful diversion from the (often poorly acted and produced) dark live-action and animated fare with beyond gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity that the House that Jack built is churning out these days for far more profit than fun.

The following YouTube clip of a "SHAZAM!" trailer perfectly illustrates to Millennials and Gen Zs that this movie is their daddy's (or grandddaddy's) superhero flick. These kids also learn that there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong with that.

The simple but brilliant concept of the source material that director David F. Sandberg and writer Henry Gayden expertly adapt to the big screen is that 14 year-old Billy Batson is the chosen one who transforms into he whose "marvelous" name that shall not be spoken and back to his original form by uttering the titular acronym. This largely is the only similarity between this film and the (reviewed) 1974 live-action Saturday-morning series of the same name. 

Zachary Levi of the 2007-12 action-comedy series "Chuck"  (five seasons! and a movie?) releases his inner-Bartowski in playing this half-man half-boy champion. He proves once again that he is adept at playing a lovable loser nerd who must adapt to a super-powered new normal. This one can be consider Chuck vs. The Seven Deadly Sins. 

The most general thought regarding this tale of a boy who goes from being a delinquent foster child to becoming a mighty superhero in a 'verse in which The Justice League really is fighting for truth, justice, and the American way is that is akin to the limited appeal of another boy hero.

Wil Wheaton coming up in conversation a few years ago prompted my remarking that I hated his smug young teen genius (with shades of Hamlet) character Wesley Crusher on TNG. I mentioned as well that i considered it absurd that the highly skilled and equally experienced Enterprise crew members gave that arrogant punk a respected seat at the table. The wisdom of my not foolish friend was that young teen boys that watched the series fantasized about being Wesley. A desire for candor requires confessing to shouting "SHAZAM!" and hoping for the best when watching the '74 series as a young boy.

A more obvious comparison is to the 1988 blockbuster comedy "Big" in which Tom Hanks plays a tween who (presumably on a Friday) magically transforms into an adult. "SHAZAM!" makes one blatant homage to the film and another more subtle one. The confession this time is admitting to still saying "I want to be big" every time that I pass a Zoltar fortune-telling machine. 

The '80slicioiusness continues with "SHAZAM!" having strong shades of the cult-classic action-comedy TV series "The Greatest American Hero." This early example of the importance of RTFM centers around the Mr. Kotter of the '80s Ralph Hinkley being the chosen one whom "little green guys" give a super suit. The primary idea is that these brothers from another planet being confident that Hinkley realizes that with great power comes great responsibility make him their guy. 

Much of the humor in "Hero" relates to the titular Reagan-era Cold War Captain America both discovering the extent of his abilities and learning how to control them. "SHAZAM!" honoring this legacy extends beyond a very "Hero" like montage. 

These fanboy homages begin with the opening scenes. The identified year of 1974 works very well for the 2019 theatrical release in which our time is identified as "the present;" however, this will seem more odd as time goes by. it is even odder later in the film to see a single school that apparently goes from grades 1-12 in the same building. 

Fourteen year-old Thaddeus "Lex" Sivana is sitting in the backseat of the family sedan as his father (John Glover of "Smallville") is driving the boy and his older brother over the river and through the woods to grandfather's house. Dad (channeling his best Lionel Luthor) and the older sibling are engaging in their usual practice of berating the backseat boy when Thad finds himself transported to a spooky cave.

Ala "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Thaddeus meets the weakening ancient guardian of the "grail." Unlike Indie, Thaddeus does not choose wisely. He then is thrust back to his reality, where he quickly sets incidents in motion that do nothing to endear himself to his father and his brother.

The copious discussion of the proud history behind "SHAZAM!" precludes going much deeper into the plot of the film. Suffice it to say that Shazam and now-Dr. Sivana ultimately find themselves in an extended clash of the titans. The Team Shazam that our hero assembles to help fight his battle will come as no surprise to folks who are familiar with earlier incarnations of our central figure; this approach also is familiar to fans of Team Bartowski. 

The team building, as well as the central plot, reinforces the "anyone can be a hero" theme of a film from a competing 'verse. It additionally reflects the "friends and family" aspect of admission into Mormon heaven and avoiding spooky Mormon Hell. 

Those who agree that "Aquaman" stinks worse than three-day-old fish will find glee in a "SHAZAM!" stinger.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

'Un Traductor': Cuban Translator Learns Meaning of Life

The Film Movement release of the 2018 docudrama "un Traductor" (a.k.a. The Translator) provides further proof that truth is stranger than fiction. Fellow recent Movement release "An Afghan Love Story" is another "based on actual events" movie that reinforces the above statement.

"Traductor" also is notable as a simple movie that greatly defies expectations. Our story centers around 30ish college professor Malin, whom Rodrigo Santoro of the HBO "Westworld" series perfectly portrays. This Cuban native is a Russian literature professor at the University of Havana when the film opens; he also is happily married to an artist and has an adored young son.

Everything changes when Malin arrives at work to discover that his department is disbanded, He learns on regrouping with his colleagues that they are reassigned to the local hospital to serve as translators for Chernobyl victims and their families,

Malin initially understandably balks at being stationed in the ward that treats children; his 'tude softens on helping with a "lost in translation" problem between the Russian mother of a sick girl and a Cuban nurse. 

The heart (in both senses) of "Tradacutor" centers around Malin bonding with an especially sick boy and the father of the nino; the bonding and the angst include the father being a teacher whose Chernobyl assignment was a reward. 

The schedule of Malin and his becoming more involved with his work creates additional friction at home as his wife gets a good opportunity and providing child care becomes increasingly challenging. A "home alone" situation developing greatly escalates the tension.

The larger context is that the Cold War is ending in ways that include the Berlin Wall coming down; also, Cuba is experiencing an economic downturn. Needless to say, this is not a good time for Malin. 

Typical hospital insensitivity and a combination of bureaucracy at that institution and the Cuban government further complicate things on the micro and macro levels. In other words, the personal and professional worlds of Malin are experiencing tremendous stress at a time that his country also is enduring game-changing struggles. 

All of this leads to inevitable fish-or-cut-bait moments; Malin must choose wisely regarding the next stage in his life. The fact that the audience connects with him from the start invests in the outcome.

As indicated above, the power and the appeal of this film is the same as all good docudramas. A sympathetic personal face is put on world events about which we learn much more than we absorbed through media accounts. In this case, it includes the new knowledge about Russian patients going to Cuba.

Movement provides icing on the cake in the form of the well-paired short that accompanies every selection in the Film of the Month Club of this purveyor of global films. The selection this time is "For Dorian." This film takes a sensitive approach to a man struggling with his teen son with Down's Syndrome demanding more freedom and generally experiencing the same symptoms of adolescent as every lad his age. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

'Project Blue Book' Blu-ray & DVD: Masters & Johnson Meet Mulder & Scully in Zemeckis Joint

Lionsgate boldly goes where no man has gone before regarding separate DVD and Blu-ray April 9, 2019 releases of the recently concluded first season of the History Channel sci-fact docudrama series "Project Blue Book." The accolades for this Robert Zemeckis ("Back to the Future," "Forest Gump," "Contact") program about the real-life X-Files of Air Force Captain Michael Quinn and astrophysicist college professor Dr. J. Allen Hynek include Forbes magazine naming it one of the 10 most anticipated series of 2019.

The following YouTube clip of a "Project" trailer provides an excellent sense of the theme of this program that revolves around investigating reports of visitors from other planets. It also illustrates the strong production values that leave the laughably badly made recreation specials of the '90s in the dust. This high-quality video and audio call for buying the Blu-ray set, which looks very good when watched on a Sony 4K set and using a 4K player. 

The broadest appeal of this series relates to it being a melange of two cult classics. The most obvious comparison is to the still-going-strong '90s Fox series "The X Files" that begins with true-believer FBI agent Fox Mulder teaming up with civilian medical doctor Dana Scully. Their investigations of initially (and sometimes permanently) unexplained occurrences generally parallel those of Quinn and Hynek. Additionally, both sets of odd couple partners come to like and respect each other. 

The second cult classic is the Showtime series "Masters of Sex." The comparison regarding that one begins with both it and "Project" being set in the '50s. The similarities continues with the odd couple being based on a true-life team. "Masters" is a docudrama of the professional and the personal relationships of human sexuality researchers Masters and Johnson, and "Project" is based on the actual investigations of Hynek.

Also akin to "Masters," we get both a detailed look at the home life of a lead and a sense of the period. Hynek spouse Mimi is a stay-at-home wife and mother. Her son Joel is a young boy, who is obsessed with Flash Gordon and other sci-fi of the day.

Like Mrs. Masters, Mimi is dealing with the new normal of her husband being away more than he is home and becoming proportionately emotionally distant. On a grander scale, Mimi must contend with the fallout (pun) intended associated with the escalating Cold War. These new aspects of her life converge in ways that include her hands-on approach to building a bomb shelter.

We get a touch of both the beginning of the women's liberation movement and the FX series "The Americans" in  the form of modern-woman neighbor Susie Miller. Susie is strong, independent, and ruthless. She also successfully manipulates Mimi in the course of covertly keeping tabs on Allen, 

Other nefarious types include Army officers both with a horse in the race and a desire to keep the truth from getting out there. These include a secret missile program and experimentation on Army rangers. Related Soviet activities and a nefarious cigarette-smoking man provide additional intrigue. 

If the dynamic between Quinn and Hynek evolves to the sexual element of the relationships between Master and Johnson and Mulder and Scully, one can image that it will be the most highly rated episode of the entire series.

Many of the 10 S1 episodes will seem very familiar to Xphiles., The pilot (no pun intended) revolves around an Air Force top gun who learns of the futility of engaging a U.F.O. in a dogfight. We also get separate incidents in which small-town folks experience seeing lights in the sky over the woods at night and having close encounters with the pilots of those craft. One of these incidents being a literally cruel hoax also reflects "Files." This is not to mention the Foo Fighters showing up. 

All of this culminates in sightings over Washington, D.C. of which Hynek receives advance notice, Plausible Soviet denial helps the plot thicken ahead of a 2020 S2 premiere.